Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men living in the United States, with an estimated 180,890 new cases and 26,120 deaths from prostate cancer in 2016. (1) Those are scary numbers, and besides cancer, there are a number of other prostate health problems that can become an issue as men age. Benign prostatic hyperplasia is said to affect 90 percent of men at the age of 70, and prostatitis is the most common reason for men under the age of 50 to see a urologist. Clearly, prostate health is an important issue, and education is one of the best ways to stay healthy.
With diet and lifestyle changes, you can reduce the risk of developing prostate health issues. And if you’re already dealing with some of these problems, there are herbs and supplements that can help you to reduce inflammation, fight prostate enlargement and inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
What Is the Prostate?
The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system that’s about the size of a chestnut. It surrounds the part of the urethra (the tube that empties the bladder) just below the bladder and above the muscles of the pelvic floor.
The most important function of the prostate is the production of a fluid that makes up semen when combined with sperm cells from the testicles and fluids from other glands. The other fluids that make up semen include those from the seminal vesicle (located above the prostate) and the bulbourethral gland (located behind and to the side of the urethra). All of these fluids come together in the urethra and allow for the proper functioning of the sperm cells, which are responsible for fertility in men. (2)
The muscles of the prostate also play an important role in reproduction, ensuring that the semen is forcefully pressed into the urethra and expelled outward during ejaculation. In order to prevent semen from entering the bladder during ejaculation, the prostate and the bladder’s sphincter muscle close the urethra up to the bladder.
Another very important function of the prostate is hormone metabolism. It’s in the prostate that the male sex hormone testosterone is transformed into a biologically active form called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is an androgen hormone that plays a role in puberty and helps men develop their adult male characteristics.
Common Prostate Health Problems
Prostate cancer has become a major public health problem worldwide. This form of cancer is when malignant, cancer cells form in the tissues of the prostate. Typically there are no symptoms at all, and prostate cancer is detected on surveillance DRE and PSA tests. If a man has any symptoms, it’s typically a sign of a very advanced disease — but this is very uncommon this day and age.
The risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age. Other risk factors include family history and race. The study of age-specific incidence curves reveals that prostate cancer risk begins to rise sharply after age 55 and peaks at age 70–74, declining slightly thereafter. Autopsy studies even show that prostate cancer has a long induction period and many men begin to have lesions in their 20s and 30s. The risk of prostate cancer is approximately 60 percent higher in African-Americans than in Caucasians, with the mortality rate in African-Americans being double that of caucasians. And studies conducted as far back as the 1950s determined that having a brother or father with prostate cancer increases the risk for an individual by approximately two- to threefold, on average. (3)
In the United States, the risk of dying from prostate cancer began to decline measurably in the 1990s, and the mortality rate has continued to decline at an average annual rate of about 2 percent to 3 percent. A major contributor to this decline is the prostate specific antigen screening, also known as the PSA test, which involves measuring chemicals in the blood.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)
Benign prostatic hyperplasia is when the prostate gland becomes enlarged as men get older. When this happens, the prostate compresses the urethra, making it difficult to urinate, putting you at risk of a bladder infection or bladder stones. Hyperplasia refers to the added cell growth that begins in younger men and then slows and continues throughout life. BPH is caused by a variety of circumstances, including hormonal changes (such as excess estrogen), deteriorating blood vessels and zinc deficiency.
According to research published in Reviews in Urology, BPH develops as a strictly age-related phenomenon in nearly all men, starting at approximately 40 years old. When reviewing autopsy studies from around the world, it appears that approximately 10 percent of men in their 30s, 20 percent of men in their 40s, 50 percent to 60 percent of men in their 60s, and 80 percent to 90 percent of men in theirs 70s and 80s have some features of benign prostatic hyperplasia. Many men with BPH never see a doctor for this condition and never need any treatment. It’s when the condition is associated with other symptoms that patients typically seek treatment — the most common issue being lower urinary tract symptoms, such as pain when urinating and a frequent need to urinate. (4)
Prostatitis is a significant health problem with prevalence rates of 11 percent to 16 percent. More than 2 million consultations for prostatitis are required every year in the United States, the most common reason for men under the age of 50 to consult a urologist, and it generates more physician visits than BPH or prostate cancer in the United States. (5)
Prostatitis is inflammation or infection of the prostate gland that often results in swelling and pain. It may also lead to urination problems, sexual dysfunction and general health problems, such as feeling tired and depressed. Unlike most other prostate health problems, prostatitis occurs more often in young and middle-aged men.
There are three types of prostatitis: nonbacterial prostatitis (the most common type), bacterial prostatitis and prostatodynia. Nonbacterial prostatitis may be caused by stress and irregular sexual activity. Bacterial prostatitis can be the result of bacteria, a virus or even a sexually transmitted disease. Prostatodynia, also known as chronic prostatitis, may be bacterial or the result of an inflamed prostate, and it often results in ongoing pelvic pain.
Best Natural Remedies for Prostate Health
1. Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Consume the following foods and supplements and make the following lifestyle changes to help maintain optimal prostate health.
Tomatoes (especially when cooked) provide lycopene, which is critical for prostate health. Research shows that high consumption of cooked tomatoes, thanks to tomato nutrition providing lycopene and other antioxidants, may play a modest role in the prevention of prostate cancer. (6)
Omega-3 foods, like wild-caught fish, reduce inflammation of the prostate. A systematic review published in Integrative Cancer Therapies indicates that researchers have found an association between higher intake of fish and decreased risk of prostate cancer-related death. (7)
Green tea is the No. 1 beverage for anti-aging because it contains the highest level of antioxidants. It helps promote detoxification and prostate health. Detoxification can help to treat or relieve the symptoms of prostatitis.
A study conducted at the Research Center for Cancer Prevention and Screening in Japan involved 49,920 men aged 40–69 who completed a questionnaire that included their green tea consumption habit for four years. The data showed that green tea consumption was associated with a dose-dependent decrease in the risk of advanced prostate cancer. The men with the lowest risk of developing prostate cancer were drinking five cups of green tea a day. (8)
Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil aid prostate health thanks to their high content of carotenoids and liposoluble vitamins. Pumpkin seeds contain zinc, which acts as a diuretic to help empty the bladder, and they reduce inflammation. This can be helpful with dealing with an enlarged prostate that causes issues with urination. (9)
Avoid High Consumption of Meat and Dairy
According to research conducted in Sweden, high consumption of dairy products and meat has been linked to a greater risk of prostate cancer. Research shows that men with higher calcium intakes had a 4.6-fold increase in prostate cancer risk compared to men with low total calcium intake. This may be due to high calcium intake suppressing levels of vitamin D, which has exhibited anticancer properties. (10)
Studies of red meat intake are relatively consistent in showing risk ratios of 1.5 to 2.0 when comparing the highest to lowest categories of intake. This may be due to the effects of meat on hormone profiles and the possible carcinogenic effects of the compounds generated when cooking meat at high temperatures.
A review conducted at Stanford University states that of all studies performed between 1976 and 2002, 16 out of 27 studies reported reduced risk of prostate cancer in men who were most active. Furthermore, in nine of those 16 studies, the reduction in risk was statistically significant. The average risk reduction ranged from 10 percent to 30 percent. Researchers believe that it’s the ability of exercise to modulate hormone levels, prevent obesity, enhance immune function and reduce oxidative stress that explains the protective benefits of exercise. (11)
Vitamin E plays a role as an antioxidant in the body. Research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute indicates that there was a 32 percent decrease in the incidence of prostate cancer among participants receiving 50 milligrams of vitamin E for five to eight years. (12)
According to research conducted at Boston University School of Medicine, the association between either decreased sun exposure or vitamin D deficiency and the increased risk of prostate cancer at an earlier age, and with a more aggressive progression, indicates that adequate vitamin D nutrition should be a priority for men of all ages. (13)
There are a number of selenium benefits, including its ability to increase immunity, reduce the risk of cancer and increase longevity. A study conducted at the University of Arizona evaluated the effects of selenium supplementation for skin cancer prevention, and while the effects turned out to be limited, 200 micrograms of selenium a day led to a 67 percent reduction in prostate cancer. (14)
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that gives fruits and vegetables their red color. It’s most strongly activated by cooking tomatoes, but the lycopene in supplements is about as easy for the body to use as the lycopene found in food. A systematic review and meta-analysis conducted in 2015 indicates that higher lycopene consumption or circulating concentration is associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer. (15)
An important zinc benefit is the role it plays in prostate health. Infection, stress and diet influence zinc levels, which are greatly reduced in those with prostate problems.
In a 2011 study published in the Indian Journal of Urology, researchers found that in prostate cancer cases, the mean tissue zinc was decreased by 83 percent as compared to normal tissue, and in BPH cases, there was a 61 percent decrease in mean tissue zinc as compared to normal tissues. Similar values were present in plasma zinc and urine zinc data, suggesting that both prostate cancer and BPH may be associated with zinc deficiency. (16)
Fish oil is known to reduce inflammation, and inflammation may lead to prostatitis and prostate cancer. A 2013 study involving 2,268 men aged 67–96 years old found that men consuming fish oil in later life had a lower risk of advanced prostate cancer. (17)
Saw palmetto can improve symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostatitis, which is why it’s one of the most commonly consumed supplements by men with prostate health issues. A 2009 study published in Nutrition Research and Practice found that saw palmetto (along with pumpkin seed oil) is clinically safe and may be effective as complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of BPH. (18)
Stinging nettle has anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and antiviral effects. It also boosts immunity and relieves symptoms of BPH due to the compounds it contains, such as phytosterols, lignans and polysaccharides.
According to research published in the Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, in three clinical trials on BPH patients, nettle had a better impact in reducing patients’ clinical symptoms than the placebo. Researchers recommend nettle to be used in the treatment of BPH because of its beneficial effects in reducing symptoms and its safety in terms o f its side effects. (19)
3. Essential Oils
Rosemary oil is a powerful antioxidant, and it’s believed that the molecular mechanisms of carnosic acid and carnosol may inhibit prostate cancer. Research suggests that rosemary’s polyphenols target multiple signaling pathways involved in cell cycle modulation and apoptosis (cell death). (20) High-quality, pure rosemary oil can be taken internally for six weeks at a time, or it can be applied topically to the area right below the genitals twice daily. Because it’s a powerful oil, dilute it with equal parts carrier oil before applying it to the skin.
Frankincense oil is well-known for its ability to reduce pain and inhibit the spread of cancer. Research shows that frankincense reduces inflammation, which can be especially beneficial when suffering from prostatitis, and has the ability to suppress cancer cell viability. (21) Use frankincense topically by applying it to the area right below the genitals, or use it internally by placing two drops on the roof of mouth for six weeks at a time.
Myrrh oil is known to have anticancer and antibacterial benefits. It also can be used to relax the muscles, which can be helpful when dealing with an enlarged prostate.
A study published in Oncology Letters investigated the potential anticancer activities of myrrh oil and found that certain cancer cell lines showed increased sensitivity to both myrrh and frankincense oil. (22) Myrrh can be applied topically to the area below the genitals twice daily.
Precautions with Prostate Health
Before seeking any form of alternative medicine, especially for the treatment of cancer, be sure to first consult your health care provider. Your doctor or practitioner will guide your treatment regimen using the most effective forms of therapy, but voice your concern about the side effects of conventional treatment and desire to try natural forms of therapy.
Some alternative therapies may be harmful when used with medications, which is another reason to consult your doctor before beginning any herbal treatment.
- Prostate health problems are a major concern for all men, affecting 90 percent of men by the age of 70.
- The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system that surrounds the part of the urethra just below the bladder and above the muscles of the pelvic floor.
- The main functions of the prostate are the production of a fluid that makes up semen and the ability to ejaculate forcefully because of the prostate muscles. The prostate is also responsible for hormone metabolism. It’s in the prostate that the male sex hormone testosterone is transformed into a biologically active form called DHT.
- Three prostate health problems are prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostatitis.
- Anti-inflammatory foods can help to reduce the enlargement of the prostate, which leads to issues such as frequent urination, painful urination and pelvic pain.
- There are herbs and supplements that have been proved to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and prostate health issues, including fish oil, saw palmetto, stinging nettle, zinc, selenium, lycopene, vitamin E and vitamin D.
- Rosemary, frankincense and myrrh essential oils are powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents that can relieve symptoms of prostate problems and possibly inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells.
- Before using any form of alternative medicine for the treatment of prostate health problems, consult your health care provider to be sure there are no interactions with any medications you may be taking.